It may go without saying that the contenders in a Republican primary will see eye to eye on many key issues – and that’s certainly true for the four candidates who hope to represent the GOP in this year’s race for Alamance County’s board of commissioners.
In matters ranging from property taxes to countywide zoning, the four would-be commissioners profess all the views that voters have come to expect from “the party of small government.” But there are also some telling differences among the four candidates – particularly when it comes to the subtleties of their respective positions.
The Alamance News has tried to get the candidates to spell out some of these differences using a questionnaire it distributed to each of the Republican Party’s contenders, who are competing for two slots in November’s general election.
[See full text of questionnaire and the candidates’ responses: https://alamancenews.com/gop-commissioners-primary-questionnaire/]
[Read biographical information on the candidates: https://alamancenews.com/meet-the-candidates-county-commissioner-republican-primary/.]
[Read full SAMPLE BALLOT HERE:]
There isn’t much to separate the four candidates when it comes to certain hot-button issues that have become rallying cries for some area residents. All of the contenders say, for example, that they oppose relocating the county-owned Confederate monument that stands at the main entrance to Alamance County’s historic courthouse. Nor would any of them follow the leads of municipalities like Mebane and Gibsonville in instituting a paid holiday to mark June 19, or “Juneteenth,” the date in 1865 when the last slaves in the former Confederacy received word they were now free.
All four of the party’s would-be nominees also express a clear predilection for lower property taxes in their responses to the newspaper’s questionnaire. That said, the two challengers in this race reveal a greater desire to cut property taxes than the either of the two incumbent commissioners who are looking to hold onto their seats.
Rudy Cartassi, the co-owner of a gun range near Burlington, says he’d like to knock down the rate from its current level of 66 cents for every $100 of property to 64 cents. Meanwhile, Robert Turner, the owner of ACE Speedway in Altamahaw, declares that he wants to peel off “2 to 3 cents” from the current property tax rate.
The two incumbents, by contrast, express a more measured desire to cut property taxes.
Steve Carter, who won his seat in 2018 and currently serves as the vice chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, voices his inclination “to see a tax reduction this year.” Craig Turner, an attorney who was appointed by the GOP’s leadership to fill a vacancy in the board’s membership, expresses his preference for a property tax rate of 65 cents – a penny less than the current rate. He also takes issue with the board of commissioners over an 8-cent tax hike that passed before his appointment in 2021.
Yet, in the end, all four of the candidates express a similar philosophy on the balance between the local tax burden and the county government’s demands for more revenue. Robert Turner insists that the county should rely on “growth” in the tax base, rather than “increasing the tax rate,” to fund any additional spending. Cartassi concurs that “lower taxes will attract more people” and lead to “a bigger tax base.” Nor does he get any argument from either of the incumbents.
“Alamance County should have a low tax rate so that individuals, farms, and other businesses can keep more of their hard-earned income,” Craig Turner asserts, “and so that we are an attractive community for growth and business development, which will increase the tax base.”
“Our county is growing rapidly, as is our tax base,” Carter agrees. “My mantra: ‘Taxed enough already.’”
Carter is, moreover, the only candidate who would entertain another ballot referendum on a 1/4-cent hike in the local sales tax rate – albeit “only if it was to be used to offset the property tax.” The other three hopefuls declare their opposition to this prospective ballot question, which has tanked all four of the times that it has previously been posed to the county’s voters.
The discrepancy between the challengers and incumbents on tax cuts is also apparent when the candidates are asked for their positions on spending.
According to their responses, the two incumbent commissioners deem the county’s current spending levels to be “about right,” while the challengers judge them to be “too high” at the moment.
In spite of undercutting the incumbents on the general question of spending, the two challengers show a greater willingness to use county funds to subsidize nonprofit organizations, which they’re both apt to consider on a case-by-case basis.
The challengers are, likewise, more open to bankrolling both of the public transit services that the county presently helps fund. The two incumbents insist that they’d only support the van shuttles mobilized by the Alamance County Transportation Authority. Neither Carter nor Craig Turner endorses the county’s contribution to Burlington’s Link Transit bus system – which receives $25,000 a year from the county’s coffers to pay for a route that serves downtown Graham and the main campus of Alamance Community College.
Meanwhile, the four candidates differ in the intensity of their opposition when they address two of the county’s more controversial regulatory gambits.
In the case of noise restrictions on gun ranges, Cartassi is quite firm in his objection to any county-level action, basing his stance on the Second Amendment as well as the limits enshrined in state law. Robert Turner also alludes to the Constitutional right to bear arms in his response to this question. Meanwhile, Craig Turner and Carter defer to the state’s preemptive rules even as they acknowledge the noise complaints that residents have leveled against some local gun ranges – including Cartassi’s Rad Range north of Burlington’s city limits.
“Property owners and ranges should attempt to address differences like good neighbors,” Craig Turner suggests as a way to defuse some of the tension between the two groups.
Cartassi is also more strident than the other contenders in his opposition to countywide zoning.
“You will disenfranchise a group of people in some way,” he says of this prospective measure. “The guard rails you build today could become prison bars years later.”
Craig Turner, for his part, finds countywide zoning unnecessary due to the natural limits which the lack of public water and sewer places on many more intense forms of development in rural parts of the county. The incumbent commissioner also alludes to the county’s current restrictions on heavy industry. Robert Turner suggests a greater “focus” on permitting in these existing rules, while Carter rules out the implementation of countywide zoning based on the “overwhelming negative response” from residents.
“Without effective planning and zoning,” he goes on to observe, “our development ordinances are the only protection [against] conflicts resulting from future growth.”